Why The First Christian Church Needs To Be Saved
Average Rating: ( 0 votes)
The struggle to save the First Christian Church in Cedar Rapids, IA from becoming a parking lot continues, as St. Luke’s Hospital officials (who own it and want it torn down) holding off on demolishing the church as supporters scramble to raise funds to save the historic structure. Why all this fuss? This seemingly unassuming building has a connection to Louis Sullivan, and that makes it very special. But there's some confusion surrounding the building...
The struggle to save the First Christian Church in Cedar Rapids, IA from becoming a parking lot continues, as St. Luke’s Hospital officials (who own it and want it torn down) holding off on demolishing the church as supporters scramble to raise funds to save the historic structure. Why all this fuss? This seemingly unassuming building has a connection to Louis Sullivan, and that makes it very special.
But there's some confusion surrounding the building that needs to be set straight, so that the effort to save it can move forward on the right path. Thanks to Maura Pilcher of the Save CR Heritage group and Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the city of Chicago (and Louis Sullivan expert), we can do just that. Read more after the jump...
There has been a little confusion about Sullivan's role in the building that should be clarified. Some people have confusingly said that Louis Sullivan designed First Christian Church, but this is not the case.
The overall stylistic character of the building is likely the work of Cleveland, OH firm of Badgley & Nicklas, but the drawings were probably reviewed and critiqued by Sullivan prior to construction. Changes were likely suggested, and any revisions to the blueprints based on Sullivan's recommendations were probably done by Badgley & Nicklas to keep it compatible with the overall design concept they created (the leaded glass is likely an exception, however).
Unfortunately, we don't know what Louis Sullivan's comments were, or his impact on the building as executed. But the fact that Sullivan's name is included as "Consulting Architect" in the church's dedication program shows that his participation was real — and Sullivan took all architectural projects VERY SERIOUSLY.
One very telling hint to Louis Sullivan's participation that can't be ignored is that Sullivan's longtime friend and creative collaborator Louis J.Millet was brought in for the leaded glass instead of a locally available glass fabricator. Add in the fact that the glass design resembles the type of work that Sullivan did with Millet during this period adds more support to his hand in this important aspect of the building. Much of the glass created by Millet without Sullivan does not look like this.
Taking all of this together point to the strong role that Sullivan seems to have had in this design. While it's seemingly true that Badgley & Nicklas' took the lead role in the building's design, the fact that Sullivan's name appears prominently in the dedication book, and the presence of Louis J. Millet's art glass make this building an extremely unique architectural gem that Cedar Rapids should do what it can to save.
Some may argue that a pragmatic approach might be to remove the glass and let the building go, but this misses the point completely. Art glass designed by the likes of Millet and Sullivan was created to be part of an architectural context. Removed from this context, the glass loses its power & meaning — just like a stuffed animal head on a wall vs. one still on the animal living animal in the wild. A window created explicitly for shaping light and space in a building holds visual power. Out of its intended context, it just becomes another pretty, but often lifeless, object on a museum wall.
In the end, this is a building of a caliber and quality that will never be built again. It's mix of some of America's most renowned architects and artisans and that makes it a local treasure for Cedar Rapids. The hope is that they recognize the importance of having such treasures in their midst as a way to not only promote civic pride, but also draw tourists to the town as well.
If you would like to help the effort to save this important building, please contact the Save CR Heritage group via email at SaveCRHeritage@gmail.com, or send checks to:
CV/NB Main Street
101 16th Avenue SW, Ste A
Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
Be sure to "like" their facebook page here.
Image via kcrg.com